Goldie, we hardly knew ye! Perhaps if you’d been a betta fish…
Well my boy, Daddy just said a prayer. I prayed that you never get a chance to read what I am about to write until you have a beautiful young son like yourself. I believe it is only in that context that you could possibly understand what I am about to describe.
Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to tell a fib… – Rose Nylund
You see, I never set out to lie to my children. I want to teach them the value of honesty and integrity. But every now and then life throws a little wrench into the best laid plans of guys like me just trying to raise their kids without getting anyone hurt. And so it was this past Saturday. That’s when the wrench first appeared. You see, we had attended a local parish carnival here in North Texas. It was a beautiful afternoon with the wife, the two kittens, and several of our friends, including Debbi and her husband! Before we left, Sonny-boy had his eye on one particular carnival game that guaranteed a “winner every time”. I was skeptical but the prize was a goldfish in a small clear plastic aquarium. For some unknown reason, the boy has been wanting a goldfish. OK, seemed simply enough. To be honest, I wasn’t even with him. Could I be any more disinterested? My wife was the one who gave him the tickets to throw a football through a hoop or something like that. Bottom line: Sonny-boy came happily skipping over to the car where I was waiting with our daughter. She and I are cut from the same cloth and carnivals don’t exactly scream “fun” to us. The whole atmosphere is a bit sketchy. “Daddy! Look! It’s Goldie!” Crap, he named it. I distinctly remember thinking “this is gonna’ be so hard to get rid of if it’s got a name.”
We all decided to go out to dinner before heading home; because sausage on a stick (a Texas carnival mainstay) just hadn’t cut it for us. So we went to a real BBQ pit and ate sausage not-on-a-stick. About a half-hour into our meal, Baby Girl got restless and I decided to take her to the car to get strapped in and to rest. Remember that wrench? When we got to the car and I opened the back door I noticed something that sent a shiver up my fused spine. It seems that the boy had accidentally tipped Goldie’s aquarium over onto its side while getting out of the car. That’s right, I came upon Goldie frantically flopping around in all of three ounces of water. “Goldie, No!!!” I shrieked (silently so the girl wouldn’t suspect anything). I strapped her into her seat and called my wife. “Honey, come quickly with a cup of lukewarm water.” I explained the situation to her calmly and emphasized the word lukewarm. A moment later she arrived with a cup of ice cold water. “Sweetheart, this will shock the fish and he’ll die.” Apparently she never had tropical fish growing up. “Whatever,” she said, “I’ll go back and see what I can find.” Meanwhile, I stood with the paper cup over the hood of my car hoping the heat from the engine would take away some of the iciness. After a while, I poured it into the box and Goldie took off. Swimming around, all seemed well and we drove home where I put the kittens to bed.
That evening, the company who had followed us (for some of my famous cocktails) and I gathered around the kitchen counter. One by one we began to notice that Goldie wasn’t moving. It was obvious that the water had not actually heated up over the engine and I had killed Goldie. “Oh Lord, listen Babe, I know we don’t like to shop on Sunday but I think I should run out after mass and get another fish before he realizes.” “No,” she said, “he won’t even notice. Do it on Monday.” This just sounded horribly wrong to me. But we all went to bed hoping for the best. On Sunday morning my wife and daughter went off to early mass while I slept in, knowing that Sonny and I would go to noon mass. The wrench started turning. Watching TV in our family room, I was pleasantly surprised by my son walking into the room. “Daddy, can we watch Modern Marvels?” It’s our favorite show. “Sure, buddy. Sit down.” He had barely hit the couch before he said “Daddy, I bet Goldie would like to watch this with us. Can you get him?” I spit my coffee across the room. Wiping the java off my chin I recovered, “Uh, no son, Goldie’s sleeping.” Yeah, that’s it… And… he bought it! By the end of the episode he had asked again and I had responded likewise. “Gee, Goldie sleeps a long time!” he said. I added something about how Goldie had a late night and we should let him get his rest. I was breathing a bit heavier and sweating just a bit harder. Damn that Texas heat!
Gee, Goldie sleeps a long time!
We went off to mass. On our way out, Son walked past the remains of the fish and laughed. “Ha! Daddy, Goldie’s floating!” He took swimming lessons this summer and found this particularly amusing. I bit my tongue so hard it bled. Coming back from mass, he looked in and said “Wow, Daddy, Goldie looks bigger…” Yes, Son, that’s because he’s bloated because he’s DEAD! Thank God I didn’t actually say that. My wife quickly took the plastic box and hid it in the pantry claiming that Goldie just needed a day of rest and Son didn’t ask again. OK, off the hook for now.
The next day, I set out to enjoy a rare day off from teaching. Son and Daughter went off to their school, happy as clams (living clams, that is). Soon as they were out the door, I bolted for the pet store. Here I encountered a man who scared me. I called for service while standing in front of a huge bank of fish tanks. “I need one of these goldfish.” He looked at me. “What do you need him for?” What the hell? I need him to swim back and forth in a box all day and make my kid happy! And then I learned that the tiny fish swimming by the hundreds before my eyes would actually grow to a foot in length and that the same fish would die inside a week in a tank of my son’s size. “How do they survive in your tanks
smartass?” I asked. “Oh we sell out of these every week. They’re feeder fish. People buy them to feed those other fish over there. They’re (the other fish) related to the piranha,” he replied. “Ooooohhh…” I said. From here I ran over to Walmart, because there’s nowhere else. I encountered a handful of tanks with goldfish — some living, some not, and a woman who just wasn’t speaking my language. No literally, we held no English in common. Thanks to my makeshift sign language I soon found myself walking to the counter with a large bag containing two goldfish. Oh, forgot to mention that my wife had texted me to get a second because our son wanted a “daddy for Goldie”. The flamboyant man at the check-out instructed me to “lift the bag high as I exited the store”. I thought this must be to prove I had purchased the fish. Apparently the sensors would “kill ’em”, in his words. How fragile are these things?
The wrench made a few more clicks as I drove him and hit every bump in North Texas. But I was finally home and Sonny-boy would be none the wiser. I was going to get the Dad of the Century award! I quickly dumped Goldie #1 down the drain (and the water he was in as well) and set out to pour Goldie #2 and #3 into the box. All was going well until I realized that there was too much water in the bag. “I’ll just pour some into the sink,” I thought. And then the wrench turned so hard you could hear it in Oklahoma. One of the new Goldie’s flopped right out into a sink full of dishes. “Goldie, NO!!!” I screamed again. “You are not going to die in my sink, you twat!” And here I used the word as the British do. In medical emergencies they call this the golden hour. Given the lifespan of a fish I think we’ll term it the golden millisecond. I looked around. A fork! Oh wait, no, bad idea. A spoon! And no, I didn’t just pick it up because, fish, ew, gross. Soon enough he was back in his water. Then, his companion still in the bag decided he didn’t want to go in the box. No I was getting angry. “Get your a$$ out of the bag, you f@&%!” And here I used the word as the Americans do (in New Jersey). Goldie fell into the tank. And all was right with the world.
I picked up my son and on our drive home I told him a funny story. “Son, Goldie’s dad came to the door. He rang the bell. I answered and he said he wanted to come live with Goldie.” He laughed heartily. “Daddy,” he said, “goldfish can’t ring doorbells!” The “being out of water” thing didn’t phase him. And at that exact moment my wife texted me. “I THINK GOLDIE AND HIS DAD ARE DEAD.” I almost threw my phone out the window. Remember the woman who’d never owned a fish growing up? Turns out she still didn’t get the whole “don’t introduce water of a different temperature” thing. She cleaned out the tank and killed the fish. Fortunately, our boy never really asked about his goldfish that afternoon or since. And I hope he never does. But when he’s a grown man with children of his own and he heads off to a carnival with them I think I’ll sit him down and show him this story and say “Son, good luck doing any better.” I love you, big man.